Greater Good in Action logo
 

Gratitude Letter

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: Variable | Duration: 30 mins
Gratitude Letter

Why You Should Try It

Feeling gratitude can improve health and happiness; expressing gratitude also strengthens relationships. Yet sometimes expressions of thanks can be fleeting and superficial. This exercise encourages you to express gratitude in a thoughtful, deliberate way by writing—and, ideally, delivering—a letter of gratitude to a person you have never properly thanked. 

Time Required

At least 15 minutes for writing the letter and at least 30 minutes for the visit

How to Do It

Call to mind someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude. This could be a relative, friend, teacher, or colleague. Try to pick someone who is still alive and could meet you face-to-face in the next week. It may be most helpful to select a person or act that you haven’t thought about for a while—something that isn’t always on your mind.

Now, write a letter to one of these people, guided by the following steps.

Next, you should try if at all possible to deliver your letter in person, following these steps:

If physical distance keeps you from making a visit, you may choose to arrange a phone or video chat.

Evidence It That Works

Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventionsAmerican Psychologist, 60(5), 410.

When researchers tested five different exercises, the gratitude visit showed the greatest positive effect on participants’ happiness one month later; however, six months after the visit, their happiness had dropped back down to where it was before. This is why some researchers suggest doing this exercise once every six weeks or so.

Also, 2009 research led by Jeffrey Froh found that adolescents who don’t generally experience positive emotions showed a significant boost in positive emotions two months after doing a gratitude visit.

Research suggests that while there are benefits simply to writing the letter, you reap significantly greater benefits from delivering and reading it in person.

Why It Works

The letter affirms positive things in your life and reminds you how others have cared for you—life seems less bleak and lonely if someone has taken such a supportive interest in us. Visiting the giver allows you to strengthen your connection with her and remember how others value you as an individual.

Sources

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., University of California, Riverside
Kristin Layous, Ph.D., Stanford University
Martin Seligman, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania